Sunday, October 12, 2014

Lessons Learned

This week, People magazine’s fortieth anniversary issue included a feature entitled “Advice to My Younger Self” in which they asked celebrities “what life lessons they wish they had known when they were just starting out.” As I read the responses, I found some to be rather superficial, perhaps offered in jest, wishing they’d reconsidered hairstyles or wearing sunscreen. Others seemed to focus upon ignoring hurtful criticism, and some insisted that they wouldn’t try to give their younger selves advice. A few showed good insight into life and what they had learned from experience, such as actress Jennifer Aniston, who was quoted as saying, “I would just say, ‘You’re doing exactly what you’re supposed to be doing. Just keep doing it. It gets better.’” Looking back on my experience as an autism mom, I think I would agree with her advice. I would also share a few more lessons that I have learned to save my younger self some worry, and maybe they could help other parents new to this journey with autism, as well.

Lose the guilt. After Alex was diagnosed with autism, I worried that somehow I was to blame. Was it something I did when I was pregnant with him? Was it something I didn’t do? Even though I followed my doctors’ advice to the letter during my high-risk pregnancy and have always lived a clean life, I blamed myself. To atone for my self-perceived sins, I threw myself wholeheartedly in trying to find ways to make him better. When progress was slow, I felt guilty that I was somehow doing something wrong. Over the years, I’ve realized that shouldering needless blame is tiring and pointless. God doesn’t want me to feel guilty, and I need to stop feeling as though things that go wrong are my fault.

“Stop assuming my guilt, for I have done no wrong.” Job 6:29

Be patient. One of my flaws is that I have little patience for waiting. However, raising a child with autism has made me learn patience because so many skills take longer to master than they do with typical children. At times, I thought Alex would never sleep through the night, would never use the toilet independently, would never be able to have a conversation, and many other things I wrote off as impossible for him. Over time, he conquered the obstacles on his timetable and on his terms. Now, whenever I become impatient waiting for him to learn new tasks, I must remember his past accomplishments and know that God is not finished with him or, for that matter, with me.

“Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God’s will. Then you will receive all that He has promised.” Hebrews 10:36

Change is good. Although I’m a person who prefers to exist in a comfortable rut, I have learned that the changes I dread often turn out to be for our good in the long run. Over the years, we have had various professionals who work with Alex come and go, and I have mourned the loss of these people. Even though they were wonderful, God has sent us others to replace them who meet our current needs instead of our former ones. As some of these people who had been so important in our lives have moved away, seemingly closing doors, others moved into our lives and brought new approaches Alex needed. For example, I felt great disappointment when Alex’s beloved energetic behavioral therapist took another job. However, her sweet and mellow replacement was exactly what he needed. He has made great progress with her, and we adore her—she is a gift from God.

“For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it?” Isaiah 43:19

Choose faith over fear. One of the greatest lessons I have learned over the years is to have faith that things will work out in the end. That faith has come with testing because I tend to fret over everything. However, through experience I have found that many of the things I have worried about never came to pass, and we survived the trying times that did arise by depending upon our faith. Fear paralyzes; faith energizes. When we didn’t know what to do to help Alex, prayer strengthened us and gave us the peace and wisdom we needed to make decisions. While I still struggle with trying not to worry, my faith has grown, and I try to remember to pray before I panic.

“They do not fear bad news; they confidently trust the Lord to care for them.” Psalm 112:7

Look forward. While I worry about what the future holds for Alex, especially when Ed and I aren’t around to take care of him, I know that I need to trust God to take care of him. Moreover, I can look back on the progress he has made and continue to hope that he will eventually overcome all of the obstacles autism has presented. When I become frustrated that his progress seems to be moving more slowly than I’d like or even that he seems to be taking steps backward, I remember that this is only a temporary setback. We keep pressing forward, knowing that he will get better. This hope sustains me when I feel disappointed, frustrated or worried because I look forward to the day when we can look back and celebrate just how far we’ve come, knowing that God was with us every step of the way.

“Yet I am confident I will see the Lord’s goodness while I am here in the land of the living.” Psalm 27:13


Dawn Marcotte said...

Thanks for sharing. I especially liked the Choose Faith over Fear. I too have had to learn this lesson over the years. My daughter has made such progress over the last 10 years and there have been many ups and downs. I just keep reminding myself that God is Good.

Pam Byrne said...

Dear Dawn,
Thank you for your nice note. I think our experiences over time test our faith and teach us how to deal with fear. I'm so glad that your daughter is making good progress. You are absolutely right--God is good! :)
Take care,